Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My New Phone!

I reached breaking point the other day with my old phone, the INQ1 which I can quite safely say is the worst phone I've ever owned. After owning it for six months, the battery would last around about six hours when left alone in my pocket, or about fifteen minutes during a phone call, or mild to moderate usage. Besides the battery life, which I would have been perfectly happy to solve with a new battery, the phone crashed from the day I got it, simply surfing the internet, or opening a Java app would cause the screen to flicker and die, or the phone to reboot of it's own accord.
Now there was one thing I liked about that phone, and that was it's integration with Facebook. I'm not a great user of Facebook, but everone else is. The INQ1 did a great job of integrating people's Facebook profiles with their profile on the phone, meaning you could see their photos, birthday, etc straight from the address book. Also, the INQ1 having a tiny internal memory, and the mind blowing move of putting the memory card slot under the battery so that you couldn't switch it over without cutting the power (despite the fact that the sim was above the battery!) was made into much less of a problem by the fact that any pictures taken could be automatically uploaded to Facebook.
Now I was pretty set from the start that I wanted a phone that runs Google's Android operating system, because I use all of Google's services, from Blogger, to Calendar, to GMail, to Reader and I assumed that these services would be better integrated into this platform better than any other. Also, after the success of the iPhone's app store I wanted a phone with an active community making apps for it so that I could do some of the fun things I see my iPhone equipped friends playing with. I wasn't interested in an iPhone, mainly because everyone has one, but also because of the lack of multitasking, and Apple's stranglehold on their app store.
The three Android phones which seem to get by far the best reviews are the HTC Hero, the Google Nexus One, and the Motorola Droid/Milestone. I flat out could not afford any of these out of contract and I'm not due an upgrade for a long while yet.
What I settled on in the end was the HTC Tattoo which is essentially a stripped down version of the Hero, but unlike the hero, it is currently half price at Amazon. The screen is much smaller than the Hero, and it is resistive rather than capacitive, which means that it isn't as sensitive (although it is much more responsive than I expected). The other thing which has been cut back on is the camera, there is no flash, which doesn't bother me too much, and no auto-focus which does. No auto-focus, as well as meaning that I take blurry photo's like the ones above, also means that apps which rely on a good picture, such as barcode readers and retina scanners can't work, which something I didn't think of before purchase.
A pleasant surprise was that the Facebook support I so loved on my INQ1 is one of the features added by HTC's Sense interface included with both this phone and the Hero. I would go so far as to say that HTC's implementation of Facebook integration blows INQ's out of the water. Photos can be uploaded not just to Facebook, but also to Flikr, Picasa, and to the native Twitter app, Peep which in turn can upload them to your choice of Twitter image site.
An odd little extra that the phone has, is a dedicated website from HTC so that you can design your own covers for the phone (like a real tattoo I guess). I'm not going to do this, because I'd make it look stupid I suspect, that and it's a waste of money, but  maybe someone would like this feature.
All in all, I adore it, even though the screen is too small to type in portrait orientation, and the camera flat out sucks, all the strengths of the software and the not by any means shabby build quality totally make up for it. One of the main advantages over the iPhone is that, while it does have an app store (with far more free apps than Apple's) you are by no means locked to apps just from the store. Just like any computer, you can open up the browser, find an app you like the look of and install it from a .APK file (similar to a .exe installer file). All of this means that there are an awful lot of fantastic apps to extend an Android phone with. Here's a few of my favorite ones that I've found so far. They're all free, although some only for a limited time, or with limited features.
Firstly, The best IM client I could find is Meebo IM.  It is essentially a version of the popular browser based IM client, in an application. It supports Facebook chat, MSN Messenger, AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, Myspace chat and YIM. I cant claim to have used all of those as I only use Facebook, MSN and Google but it sure beats booting up three separate clients
An app which has come in very handy is Total Recall, which is only free for a certain time, then you have to pay for it. The app basically records either all of your incoming, or outgoing calls, or both. This has come in handy for my dissertation research, so I can record my phone conversations without the need for any extra equipment. The sound quality is good, but my voice was recorded much louder than the person's voice I was talking to. It also only records in .MP4, .AMR or .3GPP formats. Luckily Audacity can import MP4 audio, which allowed me to compress the audio so that I could hear the other person and save the file as a .wav or .mp3 so that I could play the file in programs other than Quicktime.
Shazam is a program that can tell you what any song playing is simply by recording a short snippet and then matching it to it's library. Surprisingly, this works almost all of the time. Another cool feature is that after it has told you the song name, it can link you to copies of the song on You Tube, or Amazon mp3. It also saves a log of all the songs you "tag" so that you can look them up later.
Layar is an augmented reality app where you look through your camera and it uses your phone's built in GPS system and digital compass to overlay a layer. Layers include one to show you who has tweeted nearby, information or architecture, London underground info, restaurant  reviews, or directions to things like post boxes, hotels, pubs and golf courses. It's pretty interesting, although I suspect it would work much better in a big city, and would be dull out in the country.
All the Google apps are great (as you would expect) these include maps (which can give turn by turn spoken directions),  Google earth, Google sky map (which tells you what star you're pointing your camera at), Gmail, Calendar and You Tube. Interestingly there is no native Blogger app, so I'll have to stick to the web based client unless I can find a third party app.
Whilst multi-tasking is one of the strengths of android, It's also a weakness. Apps running in the background you may have thought you closed will eat up your processor power and RAM, but there is a solution. TasKiller is an app dedicated to closing other apps. You can either go through a list of apps and close what you want, or add a widget to your desktop that you can click to close all non-essential apps when you feel your handset getting sluggish.
All in all I'm thrilled with my new phone and I would definitely suggest it to anyone looking for a smart phone for under £200. And I'm hooked on Android now, good going Google.

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